Anyone who knows Sister Lynn Marie McKenzie is greatly familiar with her radiant smile, her tender heart, her love for Benedictine life, and her passion for University of Alabama football.
She was born in Mobile, AL to a loving, Catholic family. Her parents were strong models of what Catholic parenthood and marriage are all about. They were truly “in love” with each other for their whole lives. As one of eight children, four girls and four boys, her experience of growing up in a large family gave her a good foundation for community life in the monastery. The McKenzie family moved to Gadsden, AL when Sister Lynn was ten years old, attending St. James Catholic School through seventh grade, Disque Junior High and Gadsden High. Completing high school in 1976, she attended the University of Alabama, graduating with a political science degree. After one semester of law school in the fall of 1980, she decided to pursue a higher calling, entering the community of Benedictine Sisters at Sacred Heart Monastery in January 1981.
Sister Lynn thought she had left her legal dreams behind — until Community Leadership asked her if she would like to return to law school. Her answer: “You bet!” Following two years of initial formation and her first Monastic Profession, which she describes as being like “a two-year Christmas break,” she returned to the University of Alabama in January 1983 to resume her studies. She graduated from law school in 1985 with her Juris Doctor, (J.D.) degree.
Sister Lynn’s civil law practice focused on working with children and with the disabled, in particular those appealing Social Security claims. Her professional career shifted in June of 2012 when she served as an Ombudsman/Mediator for the State of Alabama Department of Industrial Relations, Worker’s Comp Division of North Alabama. Her time of serving as a civil lawyer for over 25 years also included working part-time for the marriage tribunal of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama and being a canonical advocate for religious.
In 2014 Sister Lynn was elected president of the Monastic Congregation of St. Scholastica in North America, which currently consists of 17 monasteries in the United States and Mexico. Sister Lynn was reelected to her third term in 2022. Additionally, she was elected as Moderator of the Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum (C.I.B.) in September of 2018, an organization that which brings together representatives from communities of Benedictine women, nun and sisters, from around the world.
The C.I.B. began in 2001 at a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya but was the outcome of 30 years of labor to bring Benedictine women’s communities together in a supportive forum similar to the Confederatio Benedictina headed by the Abbot Primate for the men’s communities. Sister Lynn’s activities as Moderator include coordinating the work of the C.I.B. Conference, summoning and moderating the meetings of the Conference and the Administrative Council, serving as a liaison with the C.I.B. Conference, the Abbot Primate and the Confederatio Benedictina, planning the C.I.B. Symposia every four years, and encouraging the flow of communication within the C.I.B.
During the first week of September, delegates from all 19 Regions of the Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum (C.I.B.) will be meeting at the Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman for the first time. Most of these delegates, around 36 total, will arrive in person while some will attend the meeting sessions virtually via the internet. The Regions are grouped as followed: 1. Italy and Malta 2. Spain and Portugal 3. France and Israel 4. Great Britain and Ireland 5. Benelux, including Belgium and Netherlands 6. GASS – Germany/ Austria/ Switzerland/Scandinavia 7. Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania 8. Croatia 9. USA, Canada (with three delegates) 10. ABECA (Benedictine Association of the Caribbean and the Andes), including Mexico, et.al. 11. Brazil 12. Cono-Sur, including Argentina, et. al. 13. Korea/Japan/Taiwan/Vietnam 14. Philippines 15. Oceania, including Australia 16. East Africa 17. Central and W. Africa and Madagascar 18. South Africa, Namibia 19. India, Sri Lanka.
Although we Benedictine women speak a variety languages, dress differently, and observe culturally diverse house customs, we all follow the same Rule of St. Benedict. When we gather for worship at Eucharist and at the Divine Office, our voices are raised as one in praise of the same God who called St. Benedict and St. Scholastica almost 1,550 years ago.
Under the leadership of Sister Lynn and her planning committee, our monastery and the Benedictine Sister’s Retreat Center have been abuzz with activity in preparation for this important gathering. Numerous lay volunteers from the Cullman area and volunteer Sisters from various monasteries as well as the employees of the Retreat Center and monastery have made this world-wide meeting possible.
Sister Lynn’s ministry and service to Benedictine communities at both national and international levels often has taken her far away from the monastery in Cullman; however, her heart and her feet stay firmly planted in the red clay of Alabama. And, as a special fruit of her labors, she brings the national and international Benedictine world home to Cullman! In her years of ministry to the larger Benedictine family, she has deepened and broadened our community’s connections with so many other monasteries. The C.I.B. gathering in Cullman is one of many examples of Sister Lynn’s special gift of networking and bringing people together, so “that in all things God may be glorified.”
Thank you, Sister Lynn, for the joy and passion you bring to this community and to the whole Benedictine world. Your fidelity and dedication to this way of life enrich us all!
By Sister Janet Marie Flemming, OSB